Zachari Logan watches weeds and ponders bodies

Art | Gregory Beatty | August 26, 2021

Bronchia (detail), courtesy of the artist

Zachari Logan: Ghost Meadows
Remai Modern
Until Jan. 9

Take a peek at Saskatchewan artist Zachari Logan’s c.v. and some famous places leap out: New York, Paris, London, Berlin, Barcelona. Now, he can add Saskatoon to that list of cities he’s exhibited in. Well, technically that’s not true. In 2018, Logan did have a two-person exhibition at the College Art Gallery with New York artist Ross Bleckner. But Ghost Meadows is his first solo show in his hometown.

It’s an overdue homecoming.

Logan lives in Regina when he’s not travelling for different art projects. But he was born and raised in Saskatoon, and his BFA and MFA are from the University of Saskatchewan. With Ghost Meadows, he’s presenting a new series of botanically themed drawings and hand-built ceramics.

Stickman is the lone exception. It’s a 2011 drawing that curator Sandra Fraser included in the show, but otherwise the work is brand new — which means Logan created it during the pandemic.

“Outside of the first month when I was a bit of a shut-in, I’ve been really fortunate,” Logan said in a recent phone interview. “I had full access to my studio and was able to keep working.

“I’ve spoken to several artists who had projects cancelled never to return, but most of mine just got shifted,” he adds. “A show at Wave Hill, which is a botanical garden in New York, was supposed to happen in April 2020. It ended up being May 2021, because one requirement was that I do a site-specific drawing. I only had one vaccine at that point but was able to travel there to do the drawing.”

Media & Mystery

Logan has done a site-specific drawing at Remai Modern,too. While drawing is his principal medium, he’s also “drawn” acclaim for his ceramics — a medium he didn’t really get interested in until late in his schooling.

His initial inspiration, he says, was a visit to the Acropolis Museum in Athens in 2011 where he saw a collection of earthenware objects.

“They were depictions of deities [that] had been stored underground for religious reasons,” he says. “What that did was protect the paint.”

Struck by their vibrancy in comparison to typical antiquities that had lost their colours to weathering, Logan began to play around with clay when he returned to Saskatoon. “I made some little plaques with plants on them,” he says. “I had no place to fire them. I just looked at them as sketches that I might even have destroyed at some point.”

Fate intervened, though, in the form of a studio visit from Calgary curator Wayne Baerwaldt. When Baerwaldt saw the plaques, he arranged a ceramics residency at the Alberta College of Art & Design for Logan.

“The thing that overlaps for me and is naturally appealing is that both media are formed by my hands,” Logan says.

Early in the residency, though, he discovered a key difference that he quickly embraced.

“I learned how when you put something in a kiln, it might not come out the way you expect. When I draw I have a lot of control, so that was really helpful. Now, I’m more adept at knowing what might happen in the kiln. But it’s still sort of a mystery.”

Plants continue to be a favourite subject for Logan — both with his ceramics, and now in his drawings. Although when he was starting out as an artist, self-portraits were a big part of his practice.

“The single and multiple figure portraits are really about visibility, and my relationship to Saskatchewan,” says Logan. “I think there are a lot of younger queer artists working with their bodies now because of that very fact — that they don’t see themselves reflected.”

Over time, references to nature in the form of plants and animals began to creep into his drawings — first at the margins, then Logan began to integrate them into his self-portraits.

“I’m still thinking about my body, but I’m also thinking about false dichotomies between natural and unnatural,” Logan says.

One dichotomy Logan cites is that homosexuality is somehow “unnatural” and therefore an abomination. That belief still has some traction in Western society, especially among the rabidly religious. But other cultures throughout history have been much more open to same-sex relationships. And there’s lots of evidence of homosexual behaviour in different animal species.

A second dichotomy relates to the environment, and how, again in a Judeo-Christian context, humanity has long regarded itself as apart from nature.

“Essentially, I’ve come to the understanding we are the garden, we’re not separate from it,” says Logan. “With the conversation around environmentalism, what we’re really doing is destroying ourselves. The world will continue beyond our existence. But it will be very horrible for us.”

Ghost Meadows

While Logan’s latest drawings focus entirely on plants, there are allusions to his body, he says, through certain gestural elements that the plants have. As well, the amorphous blue, yellow and purple shapes that appear in the background of some drawings are meant to reference the visual auras, or scotoma, that Logan experiences when he gets a migraine.

To create the drawings, Logan used a mix of pastel, graphite, watercolour and coloured pencil on paper and mylar.

“The drawings and language I’m using are radically different with a layering of images and materials,” he says. “I’m using a lot of erasure, and redrawing, and erasure, plus I’m also mixing a lot of media which I’ve never done before. It’s hard to capture in a photograph. But when you see the drawings in person, there’s a dimensionality to them, and a shift in time and memory.”

During his travels, Logan likes to photograph local plants, insects and other animals he happens to see. Then he uses the images as source material, combining plants and animals from different ecosystems into surreally scientific portraits and scenes.

This suite of drawings is different, says Logan. “I’m no longer using photographic sources. Instead, it’s coming from a store of muscle memory from drawing these plants over and over and morphing them at will. Some are more or less botanically correct, but others are more fantastical.”

Logan uses the term “ditch flowers” to describe the plants he depicts in his drawings.

“To get to my studio in Regina, I walk down several back alleys in the downtown,” he says. “And every day I enjoy the weeds.

“That relates to my thinking about queerness, and the way we as a society characterize both plants and each other,” he adds. “Weeds aren’t desirable because they have no human use, but they still have a very real purpose. There’s a similarity in the language we use when it comes to diversity in sexuality and gender, so the plants serve as a metaphor for that as well.”

Speaking of metaphor, during Ghost Meadows run at Remai Modern Logan will launch his first book of poetry through Radiant Press.

“The book is called A Natural History of Unnatural Things,” says Logan. “It has three sections, and each section has a reproduction of one mylar drawing from the show. Also, there will be a special hardcover edition, and each of the 50 copies has an original drawing inside.”

The launch is currently set for Saturday, Oct. 16, and will include a poetry reading by Logan, and a conversation between him and curator Sandra Fraser.